November 27, 2015

suicide and correctional officers

I've been pretty transparent on my blog about my recent struggles with depression. I looked up some statistics and was shocked. I wish a knew these things before starting my career as a Correctional Officer in 1995.

-Correctional Officers (CO’s) have the second highest mortality rate of any occupation.

-33.5% of all assaults in prisons and jails are committed by inmates against staff.

-A CO’s 58th birthday, on average, is their last.

-CO’s have a 39% higher suicide rate than any other occupation and have a higher divorce and substance abuse rates then the general population.

-CO's die, on average, less than two years after retiring.

Throughout my 21-year career in corrections, I've lost a large number of my fellow correctional officers to suicide. Yet very little (if any) attention was paid to the issue of correctional officer suicides. Discussion of suicide within my profession is a taboo topic because corrections employees are not supposed to appear emotionally vulnerable or fragile. After all, emotional vulnerability often equates to emotional instability, which is perceived to be a weakness by fellow officers. It is also a sign that you can be manipulated or are easily prey by inmates.

There has been much written concerning suicide among law enforcement officers, but very little about suicide among correctional officers. College classes go into great depth about the risks of stress, burnout, depression, and suicide rates among police officers, but in corrections courses the topic is rarely, if ever, discussed.

Existing Research on Suicide in Corrections
Research studies have found high suicide rates in the corrections field. For example, a 2009 New Jersey State Police Task Force Study (PDF) found that corrections officers have a suicide rate that is twice as high as the rate of police officers.

A 2013 U.S. Department of Justice’s Programs Diagnostic Center Study (PDF) found corrections officers:
-Have a much higher rate of suicide than those in other occupations
-experience severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their careers
-and on average, will not live to see their 59th birthday. Yup, you read that correctly. The average correctional officers won't live to 59.

In one of the few studies specifically addressing correctional officer suicide, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries indicated that 38 percent of the intentional fatalities were suicides by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, but the actual percentage is largely unknown because the BLS only reports suicides that occur in the workplace. Suicides that occur at home or elsewhere are classified as non-occupational and are not part of the BLS data.

So, in the last 8-9 years i have suffered severe depression and thoughts of suicide. I also have pretty severe PTSD. I cant keep my back to a room or a door. If there's someone standing behind me or someone keeps getting to close to me i get anxious. While in public i'm constantly looking in people's eyes and faces looking for signs of impending attack. I watch everyone's hands for weapons- I knew I'd been institutionalized when I looked for weapons in my grandmother's hands and looked for bulges in her clothes before I'd hug her. My kids won't get near the bed when I'm sleeping because sometimes I wake up yelling, punching, and kicking. I often times wake up running through the house. I don't know what I'm running to or away from, but i know its a life and death situation. My family knows never to walk up to me from behind......
Why did I choose a career in corrections? Why have I stayed 21 years? And why the hell haven't I retired yet? I know one thing for sure, when it comes to depression I'll never try to gut check it again. I'll get help.

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